Matt Simms is well past the point of needing any sort of rah-rah speech from his much more famous father or anyone else for that matter.
He doesn’t have to be reminded that he has an opportunity in Thursday night’s preseason-finale against the Detroit Lions to make a strong impression on another NFL team looking for quarterback depth or a chance to secure a spot as the No. 3 quarterback with his current employer, the Buffalo Bills. Living on the fringes of the New York Jets’ roster the past two seasons, Simms has been through this before.
When he talks on the phone with “the big guy,” his way of referring to former NFL quarterback great and lead CBS game analyst Phil Simms, it’s mostly about family matters, such as the baby his sister recently delivered. Otherwise, what he hears is the same thing his father has been saying since 2012, when the Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent from Tennessee and cut him before the season began: “Play smart. Play to play the next play.”
“Meaning, don’t be so reckless that you put yourself in a position where I might not be able to finish the game,” said Simms, who returned for the Jets for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. “He’s just telling me to just survive.”
That is really all that a final preseason game is about: Survival.
It’s the reason Simms is expected to play the entire game while Tyrod Taylor, named the Bills’ No. 1 quarterback Monday, and the candidates for the No. 2 spot – EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel – watch from the sidelines at Detroit’s Ford Field. It’s the same reason pretty much all of the starters for both teams will also be spectators.
The goal is for everyone to come out of the game healthy, especially players still vying for reserve roles on the 53-man roster.
“Quite a bit of it is decided,” coach Rex Ryan said. “But I still think this game is important and there is generally three or four guys that will come into this game and have a chance to win a job or, quite honestly, lose a job. So you never say, ‘Hey this is the roster that is made’ because there always are some guys that will step up and will earn a roster spot in this last game.”
Simms, who asked out of his contract with the Jets in late May because he thought he would have a better chance to compete for a job with the Bills, will be the primary reason for Buffalo fans to pay attention to Thursday night’s game.
Although Ryan said the “odds are probably stacked against” Simms making the 53-man roster, there’s still a good chance the Bills would add him to their practice squad after the final cuts are made by Saturday’s league deadline of 6 p.m. ET. To get there, Simms must first clear waivers, which means 31 other teams could claim him before he does.
That provides plenty of incentive for him to perform as well as he can against the Lions.
“In this league, every time you play you are always auditioning for someone, whether it is your own teammates, your own coaches, whoever else is watching,” said Simms, who has thrown only eight passes in the preseason. “But, of course, anytime that you play football people are always watching. No matter who it is, you just got to go out there play, play hard, execute the play and just have fun.”
He won’t be working behind the starting offensive line. He won’t be throwing to Sammy Watkins or Robert Woods or Charles Clay.
The good news is the Lions won’t have their front-line defenders on the field, either. Things could get a bit sloppy, as is normally the case in preseason-finales. And Simms will do what he did the past couple of years with the Jets and what he has done while having a front-row seat for the Bills’ three-man quarterback competition: grin and bear it.
“It is a tough situation, but at the same time in this league nobody really cares,” he said. “So just got to go out, execute, run the play as well as I can that” Greg Roman “calls, and go from there.”
Ryan, for one, is anxious to watch Simms. They have a good history together when Ryan coached the Jets. The same is true for Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee, who worked with Simms in the same capacity with the Jets.
“Obviously, I have had two years with Matt, so I know what he can do,” Ryan said. “Coming in here and learning a new offense and things like that, I knew that wouldn’t a problem for him. He is a sharp guy. But this young man can play and I think he is going to prove it. When he gets out there, he gets a shot at this game, I think a lot of people are going to see it.
“This guy is not just another dude; this guy can play and that’s why he was our number one backup the year” Mark “Sanchez had the” season-ending “shoulder” injury in ’13. He ended up being our backup for the whole season and then the next year he went in, he was really our three, but I think Matt can play.”
Simms doesn’t need to hear that, from Ryan or anyone else. His father and older brother, Chris, also a former NFL quarterback, don’t bother to pump him up anymore because they understand he’s more than sufficiently in tune with his situation.
For Simms, encouragement isn’t necessary. All he wants is a chance, just like the one that allowed Taylor – a backup for the Baltimore Ravens the past four seasons after joining them as a sixth-round draft choice – to finally get his shot as a starter.
“Maybe two years ago, when I was first really trying to get my foot in the door,” Simms said. “But now, with the amount that I’ve played, sparingly in a few” regular-season games “and then in the preseason, I feel like I’ve proven that I belong in this league. We’re kind of past that hump of, ‘Hey, you can do it!’ Now it’s like, well, yeah, I can do it.
“The biggest thing now is just fighting the good fight so eventually, down the road, like in Tyrod’s example, you can put yourself in position to earn the respect and to earn that playing time on the field. Hey, for some guys it’s their rookie year and for some of us, it’s a little bit down the road.”